While it may seem silly, cat poop has the potential to be a public health problem, according to Dr. E. Fuller Torrey (of the Stanley Medical Research Institute in Chevy Chase, Maryland) and Dr. Robert H. Yolken (from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine). In an interview with CNN, the doctors weigh in on the issue of cat feces and Toxoplasma gondii, which is a parasitic microorganism commonly found in the feces (“Is cat poop dangerous?”, 2013).
T. gondii causes a condition called toxoplasmosis, usually associated with foodborne illnesses, which affects about 60 million people in the U.S. However, most do not show symptoms because the immune system is able to fight off the infection, but for immunocompromised people and pregnant women, the symptoms of a serious infection include muscle aches and pains, flu-like symptoms, reduced or blurred vision, and central nervous system symptoms such as seizures, altered mental status, and headaches. Interestingly, some studies have also suggested a relationship between schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and rheumatoid arthritis and having T. gondii antibodites.
A cat with T. gondii is able to excrete about 100 million microorganisms a day, and with about 82 million domestic cats and between 25 and 60 million un-owned cats in the U.S., the risk of infection may be greater than expected. Additionally, about 1.2 million tons of cat feces are excreted into the environment each year.
Dr. Torrey and Dr. Yolken do point out that indoor cats do not usually carry the infective form of the disease, and give the following tips to avoid Toxoplasmosis:
- Dispose of cat litter properly, do not dispose it in the toilet because it can enter the environment and waterways
- Cover children’s sandboxes and play areas when they are not being used, since cats will use areas with soil or sand as toilets (furthermore, high concentrations of T. gondii have been found in these types of areas)
- Gardeners should always use gloves, as one study showed that as many as 100 oocysts (immature forms of the microorganism) can be found in the fingernails of gardeners who do not wear gloves
- Thoroughly wash vegetables from a garden
- Have pregnant women avoid tending to a cat or in environments where cats can relieve themselves
Is cat poop dangerous?. (2013, July 9).CNN. Retrieved July 29, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/09/health/expertqa-cat-poop-risks/index.html
Longo, D. L., Kasper, D., Jameson, J., Fauci, A., Hauser, S., & Loscalzo, J. (2012). Toxoplasma Infections. Harrison’s principles of internal medicine (18 ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Toxoplasmosis Frequently Asked Questions. (2013). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved July 29, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/faqs.html